The second half of the article was shared with me by the owners of Ashley Whippet and are preserved here and–reprinted courtesy of “TODAYS ANIMAL NEWS“.
The following is an exclusive interview with a canine who has become a legend in his time. Ashley Whippet who has become synonymous with the Frisbee.
In fact, the world series of flying discs has now become known officially as the Ashley Whippet Invitational in honor of the three-time world champion. News stories and press releases about the famous Frisbee fetcher would fill volumes. Ashley is even represented by a New York public relations firm. But we weren’t really interested in the usual “canned” press hand-outs. We wanted to know firsthand (first-paw?) what it was really like to be a real celebrity. And so with the help of a translator (Alex Stein).
TODAYS ANIMAL NEWS: Ashley, thou sands of dogs owe the popularity of Frisbee catching to you. How did you become a star?
ASHLEY WHIPPET: Well, really by accident. As a puppy I was given to my owner and trainer, Alex Stein. And I grew up as his constant companion. He didn’t have a wife or kids or anything so I sort of became like a son to him. Like I went to school with him and waited outside the classroom until we could go home together. And for fun and exercise we’d play with the Frisbee together. You should know that at that time Frisbee catching was pretty much a sport just for humans.
TAN: That sounds pretty ordinary. How could that lead to stardom?
AW: Well, you gotta remember that Alex is really a Frisbee freak. The more we did it the better we both became. And, in all modesty, I’m pretty darned good. When we’d go to the park or someplace we’d draw quite a crowd. People hadn’t seen a dog that could run 35 miles an hour after a disc and jump nine feet in the air to catch one. So one day Alex got this crazy idea that almost sent both of us to the slammer. And it also almost darned near split us up for good!
TAN: You can go to jail for catching a Frisbee?
AW: Only if you do it right. Like trespassing, and a few other charges. They were playing this big important ball game at Dodgers Stadium, and Alex figured that if a few people in the park liked our act, the crowd at the stadium would go crazy over it. So he smuggles me into the stadium and at the start of the ninth inning he goes running out onto the field, past all the guards, and we start doing our Frisbee number. Well, he was right about them going crazy over it. He figured we’d last about a minute before the fuzz caught us. But the crowd went wild. Even the ball players liked our act, and we were out there in front of thousands of fans, and on national TV for eight minutes. We got more applause than the winning home run that night.
TAN: How long ago was that?
AW: Oh, that was about 1974, and that was really the start of the whole thing. But it was also darned near the end of it all, too. Alex saw that we had overstayed our welcome and started to (you should pardon the expression) high-tail it out of there. But the cops nabbed him and in the confusion I got separated from him. They hauled him downtown to book him and I just ran around, not really knowing what to do. All I could think of was that they’d probably slam me in the local pound. But I’ve always been a lucky dog and a nice 1 5-year old boy from Long Beach took me home with him.
TAN: Did Alex actually go to jail for that? AW: No, they just kept him a few hours and a good friend named I r v Lander posted $250 for bail and a fine. But now Alex didn’t know where I was, and I thought I’d never see him again. By the time he got back to the stadium it was about three in the morning and the clean-up crews were cleaning up the mess. I guess he was just about frantic. He kept asking around and nobody knew anything. Finally he talked to some sportswriters and they thought it was kind of a good feature story idea and ran it in the newspaper. And lo and behold the boy saw the story and contacted Alex and he gave him a nice reward and we got back together again. By now we were sort of famous, in a small way. And talk about coincidences! This I r v Lander was promoting competitive events for human Frisbee players. So he had us appear at a couple of them as a sort of novelty attraction to show humans what a Whippet could do.
TAN: How did the human Frisbee players like your act?
AW: Not much. You see, none of them could jump nine feet in the air to catch a flying disc, or turn flips in the air at the same time. It made what they were doing look sort of tame. But the crowd loved it, so we kept appearing more and more often. Well, you can guess the rest. So far we’ve had about 3,500 dogs in competition in some 1,200 cities. We’re even thinking of maybe inviting some human Frisbee players to appear at one of our competitions. As a sort of novelty attraction, you know.
TAN: So this has been your whole life for the past eight years?
AW: Yep. We got lucky. Some Los Angeles disc jockeys got together and sponsored something called the “Fearless Fido Frisbee Fracas”. Awful name, but it got the whole thing started. Irv wrote the first set of rules and, with a few modifications, we still play by them. Now I’m on the road most of the year, between our contests and appearances at rodeos, and on TV, and at race tracks, and that sort of thing. I’ve done shows with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and even Zsa Zsa Gabor. But the one that was really fun was when Jimmy Carter was president I taught “Grits” (that was Amy Carter’s dog) how to play Frisbee. I even got a nomination for an Academy Award for a live action short short called “Floating Free”.
TAN: It sounds like you’ve had a lot of miles and a few years of this. Do you ever think of retiring?
AW: Once in a while. You know I travel over 60,000 miles a year on my American Express card. You did know that I have my own American Express card, with my own name that I sign with a paw print, didn’t you?
TAN: No. I don’t even have one of those for myself. Let’s change the subject.
AW: Okay, don’t get touchy about it. I’m ten years old and in very good condition. I work out several times a week and watch my diet. I figure that I have three or four good years before I quit. My good friend Hyper Hank (who started his career by winning the Fearless Fido Frisbee Fracas) is already retired. But he’s about 13 and his eyesight isn’t as good anymore.
TAN: You look pretty trim and healthy, Ashley. What kind of a diet do you follow? AW: Good grief! I forgot to mention that? I am on a straight diet of Cycle Four. Cycle is made by General Foods who sponsor me and I should have gotten in a few plugs for it before now. But that really is my diet and it does help to keep me fit.
TAN: You mean that really is your diet? You don’t slip in a few goodies here and there? AW: Well, I have to admit I indulge myself in an ice cream cone once in a while. Did I tell you that I have an Ice Cream Parlor named after me? It’s at Yale University. And I really am fond of ice cream. Oh, and of course, I get a complete physical checkup at the veterinary hospital at least twice a year. In fact I just had my teeth cleaned a few days ago. Aren’t they pretty? Good dental health is important for Frisbee players, you know.
TAN: So what happens to the Frisbee world when you retire?
AW: Oh, we’ve already planned for that. I have several youngsters, sired by me, that are already in training. One, Ashley Whippet, Jr., is already started. And I have a daughter named Kyra that shows a lot of promise. Her timing is still a bit off, like she is so enthusiastic that she jumps so high that she jumps right over the top of the Frisbee sometimes. But she’ll get it put together in time.
TAN: It sounds as though you expect this kind of competition to continue for a while. AW: Actually, it gets bigger every year. For many people it’s a chance for fun and fame that might never happen any other way. Did you know that three of the world champions were originally dogs from animal shelters? People came and chose them just to have a Frisbee competition dog. The dog may just be a mutt, but it’s an opportunity for a dog and owner to achieve something great together. I will always remember a contestant arriving for the first time at the Rose Bowl and kneeling down to kiss the ground. He was actually crying, and said to his dog, “Josephine, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that you and I would wind up in the World Championships at the Rose Bowl”! That’s sort of touching.
TAN: What suggestions would you have for someone who wanted to start a dog out right to be Frisbee champ?
AW: Well, we start our hopefuls out by always feeding and watering them right out of a Frisbee. This helps to build a positive mental conditioning. And when we start them catching Frisbees they learn to do it for the satisfaction of doing it well. No treats or things like that. And, of course, we use the accepted tournament quality Frisbees.
TAN: You mean that there is a difference in Frisbees?
AW: You bet your can of cycle (that’s a plug) there is. Proper ones are less rigid and have an outside rim that is not as deep, and so is easier to get into the mouth of a dog. The folks at Cycle even have their own tournament Frisbees manufactured just for them by Wham-O. And, naturally, it is very important for the human to learn to toss one properly. This is a team effort, you know.
TAN: Well, if retirement is down the road for you, what do you plan to do then? AW: Oh, there are lots of things planned. We have a series of dog food commercials being tested now. Instead of some overstuffed Old English sheepdog or bulldog, they portray a lean, hard Whippet. Guess who?
TAN: Well, Ashley, it sounds as though the life of being a celebrity really agrees with you. Anything in particular that turns you on?
AW: Actually, I love the whole life. Meeting interesting new people. Performing. Sometimes, when I arrive in a new city and get to the stadium or park or whatever, I just can’t help barking with excitement. I like ice cream and television. Whenever Alex leaves me, like to go to dinner, he turns on the television. So I watch a lot of it. Sports are good, and Boomer, and I always enjoy watching myself on the tube. TAN: Okay, so what turns you off?
AW: That’s easy. Flies, I hate flies. I once ate a fly in the middle of a TV interview. I don’t like the crowds at airports. And the hot lights when we are filming on TV bother me.
TAN: Is that all?
AW: No. One other thing really bugs me. The dumb questions that interviewers ask me!
TAN: Well, I guess that wraps up this interview, Ashley.
And the final article on Ashley Whippet posted from “The Whippet Magazine” 1982 with permission by publisher.
ASHLEY WHIPPET INVITATIONAL 1982
The makers of Cycle Dog Food will sponsor the Ashley Whippet Invitational in 10 major cities in 1982, the Gaines Dog Care Center has announced. Ashley Whippet is the famous Frisbee-catching Whippet seen at many shows.
The event is an extension of the Cycle Catch and Fetch events held in the last few years and is designed to offer all dog owners an opportunity to showcase their pet’s all- round athletic ability and skill at catching a flying disc.
The format has been changed to allow each team a total of two-and-a-half minutes. The one-minute first round will stress speed and consistency. One point will be scored for any catch inside the 15-yard circle, with two points awarded if the dog makes the catch outside the circle and 3 points catching it with no paws touching the ground, beyond the circle.
In the second round, the dog and disc thrower will stage a free-flight performance for 90 seconds. Judges will award points for teamwork, leaping ability in relation to size and weight, style and agility, and variety and novelty of throws and catches.
Scores for both rounds will be added to get the grand total with the winners qualifying for the National Final in Chicago on September 12.
“Cycle is sponsoring this athletic activity because we believe that feeding Cycle helps keep dogs in peak condition,” declared A.S. Willett, Director of the Gaines Dog Care Center. “The new rules stress fitness and teamwork and are designed to make the event more exciting to watch.”
The remaining host cities and dates are: Los Angeles, July 3; Chicago, July 10; San Francisco, July 17; Kansas City, July 31; San Antonio, August 7, Atlanta, August 21. In each city the community Recreation Department is a co-sponsor with Cycle dog food.
For further information and the guidelines for the 1982 Ashley Whippet Invitational sponsored by CYCLE, you can call a toll free number outside of California, (800–123-3268), in California (213) 9954260 or write the Ashley Whippet Invitational, 4521 Sherman Oaks Ave., 2-G, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403.
ASHLEY WHIPPET: A DOG’S LIFE
It was a hot summer night back in August 1974 when Ashley Whippet made his nationally-televised debut and bid for greatness.
Before millions of viewers, the future canine celebrity and World Frisbee disc Canine Champion dashed onto the field of Dodger Stadium during a crucial game against the Cincinnati Reds and showed the world how it’s done.
The stadium crowd of 50,000 cheered wildly as Ashley gracefully leaped through the air to catch the floating disc tossed by his owner and trainer, Alex Stein. The 22-year-old Stein was arrested for the unscheduled stunt and Ashley was lost for three days. The rest is history!
Since then Ashley has developed quite a following. He gave an encore performance — this time by invitation — in New Orleans during half-time at the Super Bowl XII with his canine pal Hyper Hank, and at the last College Football All-Star Game to be played. He was even an honored guest at the White House, where he and Hyper Hank performed for Amy Carter.
Born October 2, 1971, Ashley is not a pup anymore — by human standards, he is 58 years old. Stein, who has been breeding and training Whippets since he was 19, attributes the canine hero’s peak physical condition to regular exercise and to his high quality, nutritionally balanced dog food diet. Ashley is still outshining younger dogs with his outstanding feats. Running at 30 miles per hour, he has held the record for long distance catches at 106 yards and has leaped nine feet in the air to catch a flying disc.
Ashley’s performances have delighted audiences for years. His credits include appearance on the Tonight Show, Good Morning America, Wide World of Sports and the Mike Douglas and Mery Griffin Shows.
Perhaps his most notable performance was as the star of an Academy Award-nominated documentary. The movie, “Floating Free,” was filmed at the 1977 World Frisbee disc Championships at the Rose Bowl, where Ashley was declared champion of the canine competition for the third consecutive year.
When not performing, Ashley leads a quiet personal life. He exercises daily, sleeps at the foot of his master’s bed and enjoys Frisbee disc play with his offspring, whose ranks include one-year-old daughter Kiyra and four-year-old son Go-fer.
I knew ashley back in the 70’s, along with his brother Pogo. Pogo could run faster and jump higher, but Ashley was the better athlete. I once drove from Florida to NY with Pogo and brought him to Lisa.
Thanks for sharing Richard. I had the chance to interview Lisa a few years ago. I was then contacted by the gentleman who runs the Ashley Whippet Museum and he filled in many pieces and sent along some of the photos. There was a YouTube of Ashley at Dodger Stadium setting the record but it has been pulled. Did a search and could no longer find it on the web. Too bad, it was a great video of a great athlete!
Yes it was, and I have not seen it in a long time. My experiences with them were before Ashley became famous. I only met Ashley once or twice, but saw Pogo all the time . As you could imagine, he was also unbelievable at Frisbee–and had,such a great mild mannered personality.